For the second year in a row I was able to attend the Amelia Island Book Festival, set on the gorgeous Northern Florida Coast.
This festival always gathers famous authors.
I really got the chair de poule when the one and only Goosebumps’ creator R.L. Stine stepped behind his table to sign his books, only a few feet away from mine.
I spoke with the French chef and TV personality Jacques Pépin. En français, of course.
Although I missed him, David Baldacci was there too.
But it’s even better to meet author friends.
My friend Jennifer Swanson writes awsome non fiction books for children about science.
On Friday, I was part of the Authors in School program and visited a local middle school, half an hour inland. There, I met ninety students who had read my novel Chronicles From Château Moines. Their school librarian had handpicked my book among many others. We had exchanged a few emails prior to my visit, but nothing beats the pleasure to meet in person someone who trusts you with her students.
I’ve already shared on this blog what I think of libraries and librarians. I basically put them on a pedestal. Public libraries have saved me at several moments of my life.
When I was a shy kid who took comfort in books but had no money to buy them new.
When I was a student, new to Paris and still on a tight budget.
When I was a newcomer to the USA and understood that I had to become as fluent as possible in all things American if I wanted to call this vast country my home one day.
The countless hours I’ve spent inside libraries, whether in France or the United States, have offered me so much more than just books.
So on Friday, I was very happy when I found out that I would meet the students inside their school library.
The librarian had given me carte blanche for my presentation, but she had told me that it would be wonderful to emphasize the historical facts that are the backdrop of my novel.
I also knew that most of the students had probably not traveled abroad. After all, I had also lived a rural childhood and only went to London (my first ever trip abroad) when I was at the university, even though I lived right across the Chanel.
So I figured that telling these boys and girls a little bit about France would interest them. But you know what is said about show, don’t tell?
So I added several photos from my native Normandy to my presentation. I’m lucky because Normandy is one of the most renowned French regions in the US. Sadly, it is mostly due to WWII and D Day.
But I was visiting twelve and thirteen-year-old students, so this war is a very old war that cannot resonate much with them.
So I told them about my dad chewing his first piece of gum and my mom eating chocolate for the first time in years, when they were barely older than them.
Based on my last school visit and the success of the French song I played, I also added more music to this presention. These kids love French music, even though they don’t understand the lyrics.
I admitted that I couldn’t understand English lyrics either when I arrived in California. They asked me how long it took me to be fluent. In general, specified one.
That’s a hard question. You don’t want to discourage anyone, right? But you cannot lie either. So I made a distinction between oral comprehension and reading skills, between casual conversation and writing skills. Also that is was easier to learn a foreign language when you were a child.
After a Trivia Game based on the novel, we ended with a Q&A moment.
A girl shared that she was like Sylvie in my book: she also wrote songs in a notebook.
A boy told me that he wanted to play professional basketball like Jake.
Another one played the guitar like Scott.
It’s a good feeling when a reader relates to one fictional character.
That’s why I loved reading so much when I was a kid. Finding someone who was a little bit like me or a lot like me made me understand that I was not alone and that much different from anyone else.
Another girl asked me to say something in French. That’s a common question. Even adults sometimes ask me to speak French. So I returned the question and asked them what they wanted me to say.
“Tell us in French that you will sign our books at the end.”
So I did tell them under oohhs and aahhs.
Which always surprises me because French is my native language and I have no idea why everyone thinks it’s beautiful.
I told them that I’d love to speak American English like them and they looked at me like it was the weirdest dream to have.
They also wanted to know if their first names had a French equivalent.
I made Violet (Violette), Luke (Luc), and Alexander (Alexandre) happy and I felt bad to break the news to Tray, Shellby and Devon. But I reassured them: many French kids now have American first names too.
The boys and girls who had a name with a French equivalent asked me to sign their copy of my book in French. Aw…
And they liked the T-shirt I wore. I bought it for another school visit right before Valentine’s Day and decided that it was okay to wear it again, even a few days after Valentine’s Day.
Besides, the story is about peace, said one girl. Right.
So, in case we doubt that our diverse backgrounds and personal stories cannot open discussions and create links between us, here is the truth:
Kids and teens in this early part of the 21st century are curious, smart, open minded, generous and non judgmental.
The future is theirs and it is in good hands when the heart is at the right place.
I trust them. All of them.
From one coast to another and everywhere in between.
And of course, beyond our frontiers.